by Dr. Mercola
The science of exercise has come a long way over the past decades. We’re constantly discovering new information and details about how exercise creates the health benefits we typically associate with it, and more importantly, how we can exercise more efficiently and effectively to maximize results.
In this article, I will discuss an uncommon exercise technique that can make a dramatic difference in your health, and why.
But first, the study summarized above essentially confirms what I’ve been stating for years: that exercise is a key player for controlling your blood sugar and normalizing your insulin levels.
I actually view exercise as a drug with regard to being properly prescribed and having proper dosage. And it’s one that you can readily substitute for some of the most common drugs used today for things like diabetes, heart disease and depression. All of these conditions will improve with exercise and with the help of an experienced natural health care clinician.
Nearly one in four people in the US have type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes and it is my experience that most of them could be reversed with the appropriate diet and exercise regimen — exercise being the crucial key.
How Exercise Changes Your Biochemistry
In this study, the researchers measured the biochemical changes that occur during exercise, and found alterations in more than 20 different metabolites. Some of these compounds help you burn calories and fat, while others help stabilize your blood sugar, among other things.
Essentially, being of a healthy weight and exercising regularly creates a healthy feedback loop that optimizes and helps maintain healthy glucose and insulin levels through optimization of insulin receptor sensitivity.
And as I’ve explained on countless occasions, normalizing your insulin levels is the most important factor for optimizing your overall health and preventing disease of all kinds, from diabetes, to heart disease, to cancer, and everything in between.
It runs neck and neck with vitamin D as the two most important physical elements that you can do to improve your health.
This is also good news for those who are out of shape or overweight, because although it may take a little longer for you to correct your biochemistry, this same positive feedback loop will continue to create ever increasing health benefits as you persist and get fitter and leaner.
Best of all, just 10 minutes of BRISK exercise led to beneficial biochemical changes that were still measurable an hour later. And this is where what I have to say next comes into play.
Increase Your Exercise Benefits by Ditching Traditional Aerobic Cardio
Walk into any gym and you’ll see most of the people crowding around the aerobics equipment, but there’s actually a way to exercise that is FAR more effective than aerobic exercises like walking or running on a treadmill or elliptical machine for an hour, and it’s called Peak Fitness.
Later, I will review all the types of exercise needed for a truly comprehensive routine, but first I want to explain just why Peak Fitness is so essential for your health, and how you can benefit from this particular style of training in ways you cannot get from ANY other type of exercise.
I’ve been trying this out for a several months now and in the first three months alone I dropped five percent body fat without ever touching a treadmill.
But boosting fat burning is just the beginning.
The NEW Peak Fitness Program
Dr. Al Sears first introduced me to his PACE concept but I always found his material too general and non specific and no information on the use of this exercise for growth hormone. I really started to understand this when I met Phil Campbell at a fitness camp earlier this year in Mexico. He wrote the book Ready Set Go which details how these exercises for super-fast muscle fibers can increase growth hormone.
So that is the history and what we sought to do is to provide the material in a digestible format, just like we do with the medical news, to provide you with a simple to comprehend guide that can explode you into fitness and health. In addition the the peak cardio exercises promoted by Sears and Campbell, we are seeking to promote a holistic approach to exercise.
Peak Fitness is a term I am coining to represent a comprehensive exercise program that includes far more than typical cardio training. The major change is that once or twice a week you do Peak Fitness exercises, in which you raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, and then you recover for 90 seconds.
You would repeat this cycle for a total of eight repetitions. These cycles are preceded by a three minute warm up and two minute cool down so the total time investment is about 20 minutes.
It has been my personal experience that using this approach is far more effective than traditional cardio for a number of reasons that I will describe below. I was able to use this to help me lose over ten pounds of body fat and get my percent body fat down to 12 percent, but my goal is single digits.
The intensity is absolutely individual. For some it may be as simple as fast walking alternating with slow walking.
You can improvise it into just about any type of exercise, and you really don’t require a gym membership or any equipment to do it. If you do have access to equipment, using an elliptical or recumbent bike work really well.
One of my favorites is to use a recumbent bike. It is extremely challenging, and I enjoy that! This is the one I chose and am personally committed to, but the alternatives are almost limitless.
They key is to push your heart rate into that training zone for 30 seconds and then recover slowly for 90 seconds.
We call it “Peak Fitness” because if you graph your heart rate, you will see that it peaks 8 times during the workout.
Exercise to Increase Your Levels of the “Fitness Hormone”
One of the major reasons I am so enthusiastic about Peak Fitness is that it can actually increase your growth hormone level.
Yes, I realize that many athletes are injecting this illegally to achieve fitness, but it is expensive and fraught with side effects.
Peak Fitness exercises, on the other hand, can actually cause your growth hormone to increase naturally, without any of the expense or side effects.
In order to better grasp the benefits of Peak Fitness exercises, you first need to understand that you have three different types of muscle fibers: slow, fast, and super-fast. And only ONE of these muscles will impact your production of a vital hormone called HGH, or human growth hormone, which is KEY for strength, health and longevity.
Currently, the vast majority of people, including many athletes such as marathon runners, only train using their slow muscle fibers, which has the unfortunate effect of actually causing the super-fast fibers to decrease or atrophy.
In fact, neither traditionally performed aerobic cardio nor strength training will work anything but your slow muscles. These are the red muscles, which are filled with capillaries and mitochondria, and hence a lot of oxygen.
Next you have the fast type of fiber which is also red muscle, and oxygenates quickly, but is five times faster than the slow fibers. Power training, or plyometrics burst types of exercises will engage these fast muscles.
The super-fast ones are the white muscle fibers. They contain far less blood and less densely packed mitochondria. These muscle fibers are what you use when you do anaerobic short burst exercises.
High intensity burst cardio is the form of exercise that will engage these super fast fibers. They’re ten times faster than slow fibers, and this is the key to producing growth hormone!
Are You in Somatopause (Age Related Growth Hormone Deficiency?)
As you reach your 30s and beyond, you enter what’s called “somatopause,” when your levels of HGH begin to drop off quite dramatically. This is part of what drives your aging process.
It has been my experience that nearly everyone over 30 has dramatically abnormal levels of this important hormone because they begin leading increasingly more sedentary life styles.
Children and most animals in the wild do not run marathons or lift weights, they move at high speeds for very short periods of time and then rest. This is natural and what optimizes the production of growth hormone.
The higher your levels of growth hormone, the healthier and stronger you’re going to be. And the longer you can keep your body producing higher levels of HGH, the longer you will experience robust health and strength.
Dr. Harvey Cushing discovered HGH in the form of somatotropin almost a hundred years ago. Many individuals choose to inject it, though it is a banned substance in many professional sports.
As I said earlier, I don’t recommend doing this as I believe the health risks and cost are in no way justifiable.
Ideally, you really want your body to produce it naturally, as injecting HGH does have side effects. And the way you produce it is by exercising your super-fast muscle fibers.
Benefits of Peak Fitness Exercises
Once you regularly participate in these 20 minute exercises about twice a week, most people notice the following benefits:
- Lowers your body fat
- Dramatically improves muscle tone
- Firms your skin and reduces wrinkles
- Boosts your energy and sexual desire
- Improves athletic speed and performance
- Allows you to achieve your fitness goals much faster
How to Properly Perform Peak Fitness Exercises to Increase Your Growth Hormone Levels
First of all, please remember that you can perform this with any type of exercise. While having access to a gym or exercise equipment will provide you with a larger variety of options, you don’t require either. You can easily perform this by walking or running on flat ground.
You will certainly want to work your way up to this point, but ultimately you want to exercise vigorously enough so you reach your anaerobic threshold as this is where the “magic” happens that will trigger your growth hormone release.
Whatever activity you choose, by the end of your 30 second period you will want to reach these markers:
- It will be relatively hard to breathe and talk because you are in oxygen debt
- You will start to sweat profusely. Typically this occurs in the second or third repetition unless you have a thyroid issue and don’t sweat much normally.
- Your body temperature will rise
- Lactic acid increases and you will feel a muscle “burn”
If you are using cardio equipment like an elliptical or bike, you don’t need to reach any “magical” speed. It’s highly individual, based on your current level of fitness. But you know you’re doing it right when you’re exerting yourself to the point of typically gasping for breath, after a short burst of activity.
An added boon is that you’ll save a tremendous amount of time because Peak Fitness will cut your hour-long cardio workout down to a total of 20 minutes or so, including your recovery time, warm-up and cool down.
The actual sprinting totals only 4 minutes!
Here’s what a typical Peak Fitness routine might look like using a recumbent bike:
- Warm up for three minutes
- Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should feel like you couldn’t possibly go on another few seconds
- Recover for 90 seconds
- Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times
Be mindful of your current fitness level and don’t overdo it when you first start out.
If you are not in great shape and just starting this you may want to start with just two or three repetitions, and work your way up to eight, which is where the magic really starts to happen. You may need to start with just walking and when you do your 30 second bursts your legs would be moving as fast as possible without running – and your arms would be pumping hard and fast.
If you can do a Peak Fitness workout twice a week, and follow the dietary recommendations I’ll go over next, you will increase your production of growth hormone.
Dietary Recommendations to Maximize Growth Hormone Release
To maximize your growth hormone release you need to:
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Avoid a high fat meal prior to exercising
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat healthy carbs (think vegetables) and high quality protein
- Optimize your vitamin D levels
- Avoid sugar, especially fructose
The last part is absolutely crucial.
If you consume sugar or fructose, especially within two hours post-exercise, you will increase somatostatin which will in turn obliterate the production of growth hormone!
This is yet another example of why gulping down sports drinks that are chockfull of high fructose corn syrup can do your body more harm than good, and will just shut down your body’s production of HGH and negate many of the benefits from your exercise.
Creating a Comprehensive Exercise Plan
You really do need a comprehensive approach to exercise, which is a major part of our Peak Fitness exercise approach.
Ideally you want to have a variety of exercises and avoid doing the same ones all the time, as this will lead to a relative tolerance and you will not provide your body with the variety of stresses it needs to continuously adapt, improve, and grow stronger.
There are four additional types that will turn your Peak Fitness regimen into a truly comprehensive exercise plan:
Aerobic: No, I didn’t say you had to quit straight aerobics altogether, (even though I did, and am reaping greater results than before). Jogging, using an elliptical machine, and walking fast are all examples of aerobic exercise, which will increase the amount of oxygen in your blood and increase endorphins, which act as natural painkillers. Aerobic exercise also activates your immune system, helps your heart pump blood more efficiently, and increases your stamina over time.
Strength Training: Rounding out your exercise program with a 1-set strength training routine will ensure that you’re really optimizing the possible health benefits of a regular exercise program. You need enough repetitions to exhaust your muscles. The weight should be heavy enough that this can be done in fewer than 12 repetitions, yet light enough to do a minimum of four repetitions. It is also important NOT to exercise the same muscle groups every day. They need at least two days of rest to recover, repair and rebuild.
Core Exercises: Your body has 29 core muscles located mostly in your back, abdomen and pelvis. This group of muscles provides the foundation for movement throughout your entire body, and strengthening them can help protect and support your back, make your spine and body less prone to injury and help you gain greater balance and stability. Pilates and yoga are great for strengthening your core muscles, as are specific exercises you can learn from a personal trainer. Even if a personal trainer is not in the cards for you right now, please watch these sample videos for examples of healthy exercise routines you can do with very little equipment and in virtually any location. Focusing on your breath and mindfulness along with increasing your flexibility is an important element of total fitness.
Stretching: My favorite types of stretches are active isolated stretching (AIS) http://www.stretchingusa.com/ developed by Aaron Mattes. It’s an amazing way to get flexibility back into your system, and it’s completely different from the traditional type of stretching.